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The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly

by Chris Carver
on October 4, 2016

We all know what it's like to work those grueling event days. Yeah 18+ hour days... NBD. 

However, there is a job that tops your all nighter from a stamina and energy standpoint. It's the one behind the mic at Ironman. Think about it: The day starts around 4AM and it's non-stop till 1 or 2 AM the next day. It's basically party pumpin' for 20 hours straight, from directing athlete traffic, to keeping the crowd updated and entertained and taking charge at the finish line. It's a job we can all learn from.

What's crazy, is that all 2500 people who cross that finish-line over 9 hours, get an exuberant, personal welcome from the announcer. Every single one gets called in as if it was their brother. 

It's a job that is critical to the race experience, critical to excitement of those watching and critical to the operations of the event. In my opinion, that announcing job (when done well) may be as hard as doing the damn thing. For you Non-Tri Geeks that's a 2.4 Miles Swim, 112 Mile Bike and a Marathon. And quite honestly, there's no one better in the world at it than Mike Reilly. 

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly and Michellie Jones
Mike interviewing Ironman Hawaii winner Michellie Jones of Australia in 2006

I've known Mike for almost 20 years and I've never really taken the chance to sit down and ask him about his career, what keeps him motivated and what it takes to be one of the top announcers in the world. So I figure why not now?

Here's a few stats:
He's announced 154 Ironman triathlons to-date.
This weekend will be #155 and #28 in Kona (The World Championships) 
And has called in over 300,000 finishers. That's a crapload of Ironman tattoos.


You ready to do this Mike?
Let's do it. These are a lot of fun. 

Where did you grown up?
I grew up in Toledo, Ohio. John Denver sang about it... "spent a week one night in Toledo, Ohio". If that gives you any indication. That's why I got out. 

Hah. big family, small family?
Big Irish family, 6 kids. There were 4 and then I came 12 years later and then a younger sister, so there were 2 families in 1.

I'm sure dinner was nice and quiet around the Reilly household.

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly and Family

So what was 22-year-old Mike like?
22-year-old Mike just got married. It's funny, at 22 you want to think "God you were young," but back in Ohio, everybody dated right out of high school and when they were in college, they got married. I would see my buddies drop out of college because they had a wife, and all of sudden she got pregnant and you had to go to work. Rose and I always said, "Hey we're not even thinking about that until after we're out of college." I graduated in August and a year later we moved to San Diego.

And if your friends were a little tipsy, how would they describe you now?
The guy that's always happy. I guess I just never liked the alternative. I also never liked to be around people who were not always "up", and I think that's how they would describe me, even today.

So what it is about films like Rudy, The Blind Side, and Miracle that tend to bring out your allergies?
Hah, I love success stories in any way, shape, or form. When somebody goes through all kinds of trials and tribulations to get there, that's what makes me teary-eyed, because they persevered and they pushed through the bad times to get to the good. I wrestled in college and I lost more than I won. It's just the way it was, but I think it made me a better man. I get teary-eyed at all those types of movies. They get to me because that's what makes me happy, seeing somebody succeed.

Which is exactly why you're the "Voice of Ironman" brother.
Hah, definitely. 

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly - Ironman Hawaii
The Voice of Ironman doing his thing with every single finisher. Photo Cred: Ironman

If you could announce any event in the world, what would it be and who would you want to announce it with?
If I could sit next to Vin Scully at a Dodgers, life would be perfect. It's just the stamina to sit down for a 9-inning game and broadcast it, you've got to have a lot of knowledge. It's not as physically tough as an Ironman day, but to sit next to someone like that in front of a game that is "America's game", that would be it. Another one would be to sit next to Phil Liggett and announce the Tour de France. He's always been my idol. 

Since Ironman is such an international event series, play a little tour guide for me:

Your Top 3 Bars in Ironman towns:
Oh wow! Ok.
Kona Huggo's, Kona, HI. Best Mai Tai's in the world. 
#2. Finn MacCuhal's Irish Pub,Taupo, NZ.   
#3. Players Sports Bar, Lake Placid, NY. Always a good cold beer!   

Your Top 3 Ironman venues (besides Kona):
#1. Ironman Lake Placid: It's rich history is incredible and it was the first US mainland Ironman in 1999.  I've never missed it and its like an Ironman summer vacation.
#2. Ironman New Zealand: The beauty of the land and its people can't be beat.  
#3. Ironman Wisconsin: They get the biggest crowds of any North American Ironman. It's incredible!

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly - Ironman Lake Placid
Ironman Lake Placid Finish Line. Reilly's Race Announcing 101: Make everyone feel like their known. 

What have been your top 2 Ironman finishing moments in your career?
 Is calling my son Andy an Ironman with Rose and Erin waiting for him at the finish!
#2  There are about 50 #2's. But one that stands out is when American Tim DeBoom won Kona after 9/11 in 2001.  Ironman Hawaii was the first international sporting event to be staged after 9/11 and an American hadn't won since 1995. That was special.

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly with Ironman Champion Tim DeBoom_2001.jpg
Article Cred: Bob Babbit from

What was the first race you ever announced?
It was here in San Diego in 1978, I think. It was a 10K running race down at Mission Bay. I was hurt, but went down to the race because buddies were all running it. Lynn Flanagan (the race director) yells at me, "The race took off. What are you doing?" I say, "Oh, I got a bad hammy." She goes, "Well I got this speaker unit here and the bib list. I was just going to read their names when they came across. You should do it, you know a lot more people than I do."

Right away I'm thinking, "Oh, I got buddies in this race, this'll be good." I just grabbed the mic and I was in. People started coming in and I remember the first buddy that come in, I go:

"Hey, great race. Next time you should run a little faster." He goes, "Dude! What are you doing? That's great!" and high-fives me. Everybody just started coming and I just started going for it.

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly
Mike showing he's worth every penny.

A couple weeks later Lynn called me up and says, "Hey, I got the half marathon I'm putting on and I want you to announce it." I go, "Lynn I'm running the race, I can't." I ran the race and she called me again sometime later, "I got this race," and I go, "God, Lynn, I'm going to run it". She says, "Mike, I really want you to do it. I'll give you 150 bucks." I say to Rose, "Lynn wants to give me 150 bucks to announce the race." She goes, "Whoa, what the hell? You can run it anytime!"  

Thank god for rose.
I know right!? 

But that's how it started. I couldn't believe someone was going to pay me for this. I probably would have done it for 5 more years without pay, just because it was cool.

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly 

So what are some of the things you do to prepare for a big event?
I read the names 4 or 5 times the week before. That way when they come up on race day, they're familiar and I'll see it and be like, oh, yeah, Janet Park, boom, there she is. I look at the bios and see the interesting stories like, "I'm a 4-time cancer survivor, grandmother of 4," and I yell it. I think, wow, okay I'll remember that. Once I yell it out and go through a race of 2,500, there may be 40 stories like that, but when they come up on race day it just clicks. The preparation is paramount for me.

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly

What is the importance of a good announcer at a big race or event?
The importance is that they're the eyes, ears and voice of the event director who is making a living putting on the event and wants to make sure all of those athletes are taken care of. They're the attitude of the event. They set the tone. The start of any race is 50% of the stress of the day, because it sets the tone for the rest of the day to flow through. Sure, things can happen during the day, but if it starts bad, it goes bad all day long. I believe the announcer sets the tone and attitude for the event and it's a huge undertaking, but it's an honor to have that responsibility. And then you’ve just got to own it.

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly

What part of announcing is about helping support the logistics of the event? 
One hundred percent, all the time. The announcer can see things from a tower or a scaffold that can't be seen by the event director. I've actually called event directors, "Hey, this flow of athletes walking to the start line here is jamming up and we're still 30 minutes away.” They go over there and say, "Ah, yeah, thanks. We opened up another corral.” I look at myself like I'm just one of the other guys building the scaffold and putting everything up. They look at me as one of the crew.

The Ironman Team
Mike and the Team behind the Ironman

What advice do you give other event directors looking for an announcer? 
They should look for someone who will be their voice, eyes and ears.

SECOND: They need to look for someone to take care of their athletes as if they're talking to them. I tell race directors this all the time, "If you're going to hire a race announcer, you need to sit down with them and tell them that: 'You're my voice to these athletes. I can't talk to them all on race day. You can'."

THIRD: You want your announcer to have the autonomy to be able to go out there and say what needs to be said. There's a lot of announcers out there that just look at themselves as the voice and they want to be heard. I don't want to be heard, I want to be listened to.

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How do you think technology is going to change the announcing landscape over the next 5 to 10 years?
The information is much more instantaneous, especially with athlete tracking and seeing where they are on the course. I used to rely on manual spotters who were sitting at the 40-mile point of the bike and they’d come flying by and the spotter would give me the top 5; then you didn't hear anything for another 15 miles. So the access, the GPS and tracking, are absolutely huge now.

Actually, it's funny, the system went down in Texas because of the weather and right away I go, "All right guys, we're manual here." We had to do it for 20 minutes and it about killed us all. I go, "Guys, we used to do that all day." Then they shake their heads. So the technology brings the information much quicker to the announcer, who gives it much quicker to the audience. Everything's faster.

What is it about the finish line experience you appreciate and love so much?
Stories. People have gone through some unbelievable trials, tough times to get to that finish line. Or they've thought about doing it for decades. We had a guy in Texas that said he watched it on TV back in the '80s and I'm thinking, "God, how old's this guy?" He'd been thinking about doing an Iron Man for 19 years and finally he was. That's just one story, but there's 2,500 stories coming across the line.

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly
Mike calling in 71 year old Cheri Gruenfeld. There is hope for all of us lazy %$&@. Photo Cred: Ironman

When it comes to the next phase of your career, what are you working on and what really gets you fired up?
I still really get fired up speaking in front of an audience, whether it's a speech I give about business, life, succeeding or Ironman. I did a talk in Boston a month ago with about 500 people and they were mesmerized. I'm thinking, "God, they love these stories." It's not because they love me telling these stories, they love hearing somebody go through something that doesn't seem possible, so I get fired up about that. I get fired up giving advice to people whether it comes to sales or anything. If you ever think you're going to stop learning, just because you're at a certain status or level of your career or age, you're lost, you're going backwards.

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly
Event Announcing Advice: Try to be listened to and not be heard.

I know a lot of people come to you for life and career advice, so what are some recurring themes you see a lot of people struggle with?
I think they struggle with making their own decisions. I think they want to depend on somebody else to make that decision for them. I think they also struggle with the responsibility of it and the reason they don't want to make it is, "What if I'm wrong?" I find people have a hard time doing an honest self-assessment. They want somebody else to tell them, but in that self-assessment you speak more honestly to yourself than anybody else every will. 

What is the best piece of professional advice you've received in your career and from whom?

I have two for you.

Even better Mike.

In the early days at Active, it was from Dave Alberga. He said to me, "Mike, you just have to sell your passion. That's all you got to do and we'll be successful. Don't ever stop selling that.”

The second is advice my brother gave me after moving to San Diego in the late 70's. He said "always remember, you are the cause of your own experience". That has always stuck with me. 

And when you finish the Ironman someday, who do you want to call you across the finish line?
My son Andy Reilly. There's no doubt about that. I want Rose and Erin and the family there and I want Andy's voice. I got to call him an Ironman and it was the greatest call I've ever made in my life. I get emotional thinking about it now. So yeah, I want the kid's voice. And... if Erin and Andy could do it together, that would be even more incredible.

Mike, that will be an amazing day. I'd love to be there to see it.

The Voice of Ironman Mike Reilly and son Andy Reilly
Mike getting the "The Kid" Andy Reilly prepped for the big day. He even get's his own Mic.

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